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Top 10 Horror Movie Musical Themes

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Matt Wende. They’re the songs that bring you back to that moment of pure terror in the cinema. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 horror movie musical themes. For this list, we’re looking at the musical accompaniment of horror films that are used either as a theme song or to set the tone in one of the film’s scenes. We’re choosing our entries based on a mix of their memorability and/or iconic status. Special thanks to our users Kevin James Yannutz, Michael Richards, anthonyperez0615, SlashinatorZ, stupidTRISTEN, Matthew Ryan, Vincent Longbardi, Cory Markwick, Erica Jones, TheKidsOnTheStreet, MjrPayne86 and Nicole Calleja for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Matt Wende.

Top 10 Horror Movie Musical Themes


They’re the songs that bring you back to that moment of pure terror in the cinema. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 horror movie musical themes.

For this list, we’re looking at the musical accompaniment of horror films that are used either as a theme song or to set the tone in one of the film’s scenes. We’re choosing our entries based on a mix of their memorability and/or iconic status. They’re majestic, fantastic, and the perfect accompaniment to the most blood-curdling scream you can muster.

#10: “The Ring” (2002)

Written by legendary movie scorer Hans Zimmer, the theme song to this 2002 American remake of the Japanese classic achieves its status for sounding as if it was directed by a masterful horror auteur. It begins with subtle piano notes that give but a faint hint of the horror to come. A slow build follows, and as the excitement mounts, audiences know they are in for a delightfully petrifying treat.

#9: “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

Though many horror themes play off the melodic qualities of a lullaby, the theme to this 1968 Roman Polanski film takes our number 9 spot based on creep factor alone. Krzysztof Komeda, known for writing several Polanski film scores, is the mastermind behind this hair-raising track. The soft motherly voice is betrayed by the shrill instrumentals, and listeners are greeted to a key theme of the story of “Rosemary’s Baby”: a mother’s love that’s hiding something truly evil.

#8: “28 Days Later” (2002)

Anyone who has seen the film accompaniment to our 8th pick will agree that the ravaging hyper-violent zombies are only half of what makes the film so scary. The second half is the mounting feeling of desolation and hopelessness. This song, written by John Murphy, delivers that feeling in audio form to the audience, as its booming crescendo delivers a vast sense of isolation. The final soft notes leave us with a thought we had from the very beginning: We are not safe.

#7: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

Beginning with an oddly soothing tone, any ideas that the movie it accompanies is going to be a happy one are quickly shattered by composer Charles Bernstein after about a minute in. As the movie follows a group of teens that are killed in their dreams, this theme is all too fitting as it pretends to soothe us, and then acts as a vicious reminder that something wicked lurks in the shadow. Listen to this a few times, and you can forget about sleeping.

#6: “Saw” (2004)

How many songs do you know make you feel stressed that you’re running out of time and that your life is in grave danger? Well, there’s at least this one, thanks to Charlie Clouser, the man behind the “Saw” theme writer and a former Nine Inch Nails member. The perfect accompaniment to the film it represents, this track really works to showcase the psychological thriller and its sequels’ gruesome traps, high-tension situations, and twist endings.

#5: “Psycho” (1960)

Coming in at the midpoint on our list is a tune that isn’t technically “Psycho”’s theme song, but is so iconic and inextricable from the horror thriller that it’s gotta be here. At the time of release, the movie’s infamous shower scene achieved notoriety for being one of the most graphically violent sequences ever put to the big screen. Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack is expertly laid over the film’s lighting fast cuts, and the screeching violins have come to represent not only the genius that is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, but also horror films in general. It’s enough to give us mommy issues.

#4: “Friday the 13th Part III” (1982)

Horror film franchises are known for their reboots and sequels, and few characters have had as many different incarnations as this hockey mask-wearing serial killer. Another staple of the “Friday the 13th” series, though, is its catchy and creepy theme song, written by Harry Manfredini, and our favorite version is the 1982 disco-inspired track from “Part III.” If at some point while listening, you are tempted to get up and dance, don’t worry, that’s normal. On the other hand, if you begin to feel a bit violent, then you may want to call a doctor… or the cops?

#3: “Jaws” (1975)

Well-done movie music is like another character in the scene you’re watching, and one of our favorite “characters” from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is the theme written by another composing legend, John Williams. The score gives its listeners a front row seat to the mayhem that’s about to ensue; a deadly game of predator and prey. Whether it was at the movie theater in the ‘70s, or at summer camp where a friend teased you while swimming in the lake, everyone has heard this iconic track, and everyone knows exactly what it means. Dinner is served.

#2: “The Exorcist” (1973)

Not only a phenomenon in the horror genre, “The Exorcist” is one of the most iconic films of all time. Director William Friedkin originally rejected the score written for him, and instead used the song “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield to be canonized as the theme. The song, while only featured briefly, is a perfect reflection of the film. It’s mysterious, determined, and spine rattling-ly creepy. In short, it’s the ideal accompaniment to a story of two priests willing to give anything to save an innocent young girl from the Devil himself.

Before we slash our way to the top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “The Omen” (1976)
- “Candyman” (1992)
- “Child’s Play” (1988)
- “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
- “Children of the Corn” (1984)

#1: “Halloween” (1978)

“Halloween” director John Carpenter also wrote the film’s score, which is beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness… a notion mirrored in the mask worn by the slasher flick’s killer, Michael Myers. Although similar in melody and tone to another contender for our list, “The Fog”, the quick tempo and dramatic violins give “Halloween”’s theme the sharper edge. This terrifying number will have you checking over your shoulder long after you’re done trick-or-treating.

Did you agree with our list? What iconic horror movie themes did we miss? For more terrifying top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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